As noted in the Illinois State Board of Education’s Part-3 Transitioning Planning Phase 4 document, “Schools have an opportunity at this unique moment in history to strengthen relationships with families. Despite facing significant challenges, parents are engaging deeply in their children’s education. Parents are and will be critical partners in helping students to recover lost learning and make academic gains over the course of the school year” (Page 13).
High-quality communication between the district and its stakeholders is paramount to the success of students during the 2020-2021 school year. When parents and employees receive consistent, detailed, timely, and easily understood communications, they are better able to engage in their students’ learning. A well-communicated plan ensures that stakeholders are aware of the academic expectations, can access needed resources, and can find assistance and receive answers to questions. Such transparency and collaboration increases the comfort level of all stakeholders, which leads to a more productive and positive school climate.
Various research methods were employed in order to gauge the success of the district’s communications during e-learning (fourth quarter 2020) due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The results were used to determine how district and school communications can be improved during the various pandemic recovery phases, as well as in the long term. The following overall themes/needs were identified.
Timely: Stakeholders have a need for up-to-date information provided in a timely manner.
Informed: Too many communications proved overwhelming for stakeholders, causing them to overlook important information. Respondents want important messages such as procedures and dates provided in writing (email). These communications will be posted to the website so they can be easily referenced at a later date. Video conferencing tools will be reserved for situations in which face-to-face communication would be beneficial, such as to answer student questions, address immediate needs, and to ensure the well-being of a student when multiple email messages have not elicited a response.
Accessible: Respondents requested access to the educational platforms (Canvas, Google) used by students to allow them to monitor their child(ren)’s progress/responsibilities. In addition, stakeholders want a common calendar system implemented across grade-level spans so parents can track their child(ren)’s due dates or completed/incomplete assignments.
Consistent: Consistency between the mode and timing of communications was requested. For example, select a different day of the week for messages from the school versus the district.
Focused: Reduce the redundancy between district and school messages and limit repeating information that was stated in a previous email unless there is an update. If these messages are posted to the website (see “informed” above), then previous topics can be easily referenced at a later date.
Simple: In times when email communication is increased, it is beneficial to combine information into the fewest number of messages as possible. Respondents also requested limiting the number of educational platforms being used by students (Canvas/Google).
ACTION PLAN SUMMARY
The Yorkville CUSD 115 Action Plan was developed to list action steps to ensure that resources are available to assist stakeholders through the transition with an enhanced effort to provide the communications and corresponding resources in various languages. A summary of the action plan is below:
Climate: Create a variety of activities that continues the “We Are Yorkville” theme that was promoted during the spring to develop a positive mindset and to unite all stakeholders in a common effort to help District 115 students to succeed.
Calendar System: Identify and implement an academic calendar system that is the same across grade-level spans for consistency and provide both students and parents access to view it (Seesaw EC-2; Google 3-6; Canvas 7-12 with the opening of the parent portal). The calendar content will be created by teachers and include assignments, lessons, and deadlines.
Communication with Families:
- Weekly principal e-newsletters will be emailed as a regular course of action on Fridays only, as not to overwhelm parents. The emails will include a link to their student’s academic learning platform so parents can easily access school information (Seesaw, Google Classroom, Canvas). District emails will be sent as a regular course of action on Mondays, but only as needed. The district and schools will work to avoid a redundancy of information between the two newsletters, as well as in a later edition of the same newsletter (unless there is an update). Newsletters will contain information such as dates and procedures and be posted to the website so they can be referred to at a later date.
- Phone calls to families will be done either through the district phone lines if on-site or through a district cell phone or Google Voice if off-site. Calls will be reserved for emergency communications and/or for student check-ins after a response to multiple emails is unsuccessful.
- The option to text through the district’s alert notification system will be available to all teachers to eliminate the use of non-approved systems such as Remind/Class Dojo and to limit the number of apps for parents and students to monitor.
- Video conferencing such as Zoom will be used for virtual classes and student social-emotional check-ins. Zoom will also be an option for parent-teacher conferences and IEP or 504 meetings to allow for greater parent participation. To the extent that it is possible, the following student preferences should be considered: Academically, students prefer pre-recorded classes so they can be re-watched and viewed at a time convenient to them. Students also prefer that video conferences be used primarily to clarify academic content and expectations (questions and answers), and if a class must be held using Zoom, it is done in small groups as opposed to large groups.
- Emails from teachers to families will be reserved for answering questions and providing reminders for the current week (all other information should be included in the weekly principal newsletter or added to the appropriate educational platform--Seesaw, Google Classroom, Canvas). District 115 employees would be expected only to email students and parents through the district @y115 email system so that an appropriate signature line would be included, information could easily be found by using a consistent format, and messages would be easier for parents to view.
Help & Assistance: A variety of new documents and video tutorials for students, parents, and teachers will be created and posted to the district website in both English & Spanish. Tutorials will include information regarding how to access various academic programs, information, and assistance. Families will be encouraged to use the district help emails including Y115@y115.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com in order to receive prompt assistance.
Social Media: In a learning environment in which students and staff may not always be on-site, student and staff recognitions will be conducted in person, as feasible, as well as posted online through social media/e-newsletters to reach a broader audience. More cross promotion of social media platforms will be done to encourage employees and families to follow both the district and school sites.
Website: A student portal will be created and newsletters and video tutorials will be posted for both parents and students. The employee intranet will be continually updated to keep information relevant and current.
Sub Team Leaders: